“That’s the cool thing about jam; it comes in so many flavours and has a surprisingly long shelf life.”
Bass heavy music, deadly lyricists, and pioneers of musical exploration (they’re born every day);” this is how Cape Town based glitch-rap duo, Jam Jarr describe their influences on Facebook. We could just leave it there. Not much more you need to know about them ‘cos that there statement sums them up too. Tick the boxes: Bass-heavy – yup. Deadly lyricist – yup. Pioneers of musical exploration – yup. Bold words? Sure! And yeah I guess you could point to other SA rappers and start this debate on how pioneering Jam Jarr really is. Shee-it these days anybody can lay down a beat man. All you need it seems is an Ipad. Really! Check it out. There’s an App waiting for you to fulfil your musical dream!
So what makes Jam Jarr special? What separates their music from dozens of other rappers, hip-hop outfits, glitch-rap crews? It’s the sum of the whole; the same way a rock band makes their mark without being 100% unique – it’s the alchemy that happens when the right individuals find each other and create music. It smacks of authenticity. It’s proper human expression. It’s what we live for in music. ‘Soundproof’ and ‘Waykin Bakaman’ – okay not their real names; Kieron and Paul to their mommas – just fit. From the time their first EP, Fat Fruit dropped, it was like ‘here’s a rapper comfortable enough to let the music breathe. Not compete with the beats but be at one with them.’ I remember thinking this. And the beats are phat. Really, really phat.
So what is glitch-rap? Paul and Kieron describe it as “bass-heavy beats with influences from Dubstep to glitch-hop and a whole lot in between.” Today’s musical landscape, at least electronic music, is a hybrid mishmash of genre bending influences. Drum ‘n bass melding effortlessly with Dubstep, hip-hop, breaks, broken beats… there’s really just one thing that underpins the sound… holding it all down; bass! Phat bass and loads of it to massage the soul amidst an assault of clever lyricism and MC’ing. This is glitch-rap. This is Jam Jarr!
Paul Stubbs – the ‘waker and the baker’ – ‘Waykin Bakaman’ first made his mark jamming with like-minded producers such as Liver, Dank and Mix n Blend… “Then I met Kieron, and then boom, bap, glitch, rap,” he smiles. I’m kicking back at producer Kieron Grieve’s home studio in Obz, Cape Town, sharing a toke or two, drinking tea with the gang. A month earlier I’d stumbled past the ‘Music Box Stage’ at Earthdance – all I wanted to do was get to my car, grab some more cash and return to my mates for tequila shots but then, like ‘Bakaman’ says ‘boom, bap’ and I discovered their glitch-rap. I was stuck to that dancefloor… involuntary dance moves jerking me back ‘n forth. The tequila shots could wait.
So here we are hanging at the studio in Obz. I’d gotten here late and I detect a slight irritation in Kieron’s voice as he greets me, belying this languid 6-foot something’s super laid back persona and it dawns on me, ‘laid back does not have to mean you’ll just suck it up, it’s just a different energy. We all get pissed off at times, even laid back dudes.’ Paul by contrast seems a little edgier; his eyes are searching, assessing, challenging, questioning, but not unfriendly. They both seem in a happy place. Kieron’s got his ‘Village’ event on his mind– something he co-organises and for all accounts has become a well established outdoor party on the Cape Town summer psy-circuit. He’ll also be jetting off to Portugal the week after that to perform as Rubix Qube (his solo psytrance project) and as Biorhythm (a psy-project he does with mate, Carl Sharples). Paul’s feeling pretty chipper too, having just got word that an Ill Gates [Canadian rapper] track he collaborated on has just hit No. 1 on the Beatport Glitch rap charts. “He’d heard Jam Jarr – Sync Into The Sun, and he wanted a rap with that kind of force on one of his tracks. I said helllllzzzzzzz yeeeeeaaaaaaaaah. He sent me a rough copy of the track, we talked over Skype and after a couple of re-records, it was done! When it came out in October, and went to #1 on the Glitch Rap charts… I danced a jig in my living room,” he beams.
I’m curious as to how Kieron splits his time between his psy-projects and Jam Jarr, something I assume could be a little more creatively rewarding. “Psy has given me the opportunity to experience some of the international scene but it doesn’t change the amount of effort or time spent on each project. I mean I try my best to partition studio time to all music related endeavours, regardless of the success of each one. I want to see Paul and I in Europe next year so lots of work needs be done before that happens, but when it does happen Cape Town and SA will finally have the opportunity to miss us for the first time,” he smiles wryly.
The thorny issue of getting paid properly for gigs won’t go away and we seem to keep coming back to this. Although they both speak in unison their remarks tell a slightly different story. Paul seems a little pushier. He agrees, “Yeah, that’s the rapper in me, the dog on the bone. I have this crazy idea that the music should be able to pay the rent. As for friends in the right places [a reference to an earlier remark made by me], I only have acquaintances! If we got a manager (our current manager is under strict orders to respect our stoner ways), things would change drastically. Right now, being the way we are allows us to make music, and music that we like. That said it does tickle my migraine vein from time to time.” Kieron adds dismissively, “Sometimes it’s dodgy…sometimes the guy who books you doesn’t know the difference between an hour of music that’s been made in a studio and an hour of downloaded MP3’s, and that’s a huge problem. I don’t have a pushy personality but I have a good understanding of how the music industry is run here and what kind of people are good to work with. Having said that I don’t really have time to educate people, I’d rather be making music.”
Their plan is to get to Europe next year. Kieron has said as much. But first they have the job of getting their new EP out. “I think we have changed a lot since the first release. The sound is more dramatic and crunchy with more of a live feel to it. When I listen to the first one I think of 4 examples of the Jam Jarr sound. Next month you will hear 5 more… and many more are coming so I advise everyone to get used to the multi-coloured jam. That’s the cool thing about jam; it comes in so many flavours and has a surprisingly long shelf life,” laughs Kieron.
Finally I hit them with the inevitable “Where do you guys see yourself in 10 years from now, individually and collectively?”
Kieron gives me a stoned gaze, “I hope I’ll be doing the exact same thing,” [laughs] “… except more of it. Jam Jarr will still be a glitch-duo, touring and giving people something that’s still fresh and very African dope on a large scale. We’ll probably be big in Japan.”
Fittingly ‘Bakaman’ has the final word as MC’s do. He adds succinctly, “I don’t dare think of that. My greatest hope is that I’ll still be making music the way I want, because I want to.”